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Both OBA leadership contenders enjoyed roars of audience support

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The race was so tight a clean sweep hardly seemed possible for most of the evening, but in the end it was the new broom that emerged victorious.

One Bermuda Alliance members couldn’t have had two more different characters to choose from as they paved the way forward for their fledgling party on a night of tension at Fairmont Southampton on Saturday.

It was a battle between the political newcomer with a preaching style who’s sick of all the partisan fighting, and the seasoned pro with a businesslike approach who was itching to slug it out with Premier Paula Cox.

And throughout the evening it was impossible to tell who had the upper hand as the audience cheered and clapped in equal measures for Senator Craig Cannonier and Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards.

Sen Cannonier blasted the Progressive Labour Party for creating a racial divide: hundreds of people roared approval.

Mr Richards mocked the PLP’s record on finances: those same members whooped their agreement.

Sen Cannonier played down his political inexperience by saying the whole team will play their part in winning the next election; Mr Richards hit back at claims he’s an elitist snob by telling his family’s rags to riches tale. Both those arguments received warm applause from the audience of close to 1,000.

Even the awkwardness of the silence that fell over the room when the contenders took gentle digs at each other was roughly the same.

Sen Cannonier’s suggestion Mr Richards would be portrayed as UBP wine in an OBA bottle met a similar quietness to Mr Richards’ hint Sen Cannonier is a Cup Match strokemaker who needs to earn his stripes as a colt before graduating to captain.

With both men enjoying similar sized factions of support, and neutrals seemingly cheering for both, it was obvious the vote was going to be close; suspense then gradually mounted during a two-hour break while ballot papers were cast and counted.

Many of the crowd had left by 12.30am, when new chairman Thad Hollis announced the verdict to cries of joy from the Cannonier camp, including most vocally the Senator’s children and wife Antoinette, who had earlier joined him on stage during his speech.

Immediately the new leader championed his new deputy, Senator Michael Dunkley, as well as the defeated Mr Richards. The OBA would not be where it was without both those men, he declared.

Sen Dunkley beamed at his much-expected win; Mr Richards, while gracious in defeat, wore a look of total despondency. For the second time in two years he was instantly confronted by a media keen to know how he felt to lose an Opposition leadership contest many had expected him to win.

“Here come the vultures,” sighed the Shadow Minister, before adding: “I’m what they call a political bridesmaid.”

He stressed he’s still a team player and pledged to work for Sen Cannonier before departing to heartfelt good wishes from supporters and colleagues.

Yesterday, Mr Richards wrote on Facebook: “Your presence and support has made me feel like a true winner. I know in my heart that the OBA will put Bermuda first.

“I ask you to pray for the team that was voted in last night and especially for our new leader, Craig Cannonier.”

The evening, scheduled to begin at 7.30pm, had started late as new members signed up in the foyer and the room was expanded to fit in extra seats.

The racial breakdown was roughly three-quarter white, with a noticeable former UBP-contingent spread across the audience.

Quite how many were ex-UBP, ex-Bermuda Democratic Alliance, poached from the PLP or new recruits to politics was difficult to tell but, judging by the general agreement at every speaker’s criticism of Government, they were united in their demand for change.

Deputy leader contender Trevor Moniz’s accusations of political corruption brought cheers, as did Sen Dunkley’s vow to end the “gang violence crap” and Sen Cannonier’s anger at PLP cronyism.

Voiced concerns over the failing education system and state of the economy brought further roars of approval as the night went on.

The road ahead to fixing those problems is a long one, Sen Cannonier noted.

But, repeating a phrase he’s uttered numerous times over the past week, he vowed that his party will embark on that trip with the urgency of now.

Useful websites: www.oba.bm

Craig Cannonier celebrates after being announced the leader of the One Bermuda Allaince on Saturday night. (Photo by Mark Tatem)
Craig Cannonier and Michael Dunkley shake hands after being announced the leader and deputy leader respectively of the One Bermuda Allaince on Saturday night. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published September 12, 2011 at 10:07 am (Updated September 12, 2011 at 10:07 am)

Both OBA leadership contenders enjoyed roars of audience support

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